The rise of the Yellow Submarine

At the start of the 2011-12 season Villarreal were placed in a Champions League group alongside the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Napoli. By the next season, they would be playing in Segunda (Spain’s second division) with the likes of Xerez, Huesca and Guadalajara.

Having finished fourth the previous year, the Yellow Submarine’s fall to Segunda was one of the most dramatic stories in Spanish football that season. Villarreal started the final day of the season in 16th place and one point off the relegation zone, with most convinced that they were too big a club to go down. Despite never having won La Liga, this was, after all, the team that Manuel Pellegrini had taken to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2006, only to be undone by a Jens Lehmann penalty save for Arsenal in the 90th minute, and the team that had finished runners-up in La Liga in 2008.
 
But no club is too big to go down, as Villarreal discovered in the dying minutes of their clash with Atletico Madrid, as results conspired against them. First Atletico scored in the 88th minute and then Rayo Vallecano netted against Granada to seal Villarreal’s unlikely fate. 
 
It was a combination of factors that had seen them go down. Many pointed to the sale of star player Santi Cazorla to Malaga, the various managerial changes, Guiseppe Rossi’s injury and the reliance on key players such as Diego Lopez, Borja Valero and Bruno Soriano. But Lopez’s analysis was spot-on. ‘We have gone down because we haven’t done well.’ 
 
Diego Lopez is now first-choice keeper at Real Madrid, while Rossi is scoring freely for Fiorentina, with Borja Valero playing in the same outfit. Bruno, however, remains at Villarreal, and is now club captain. On Friday he scored a goal against Malaga in La Liga. The game ended 1-1, but whilst this may have been acceptable in that fateful season when they went down (Malaga finished fourth that season), Villarreal are now aspiring to better things, and this was a disappointing result, demonstrating just how far they have come since the heartbreak of that final-day drama two years ago. 


Marcelino is one of the reasons that Villarreal are doing so well this season.

They have rebuilt under exciting manager Marcelino, who some doubted when he first took the job. There were fears over whether the former Racing manager could manage the pressure from fans who desperately wanted promotion, but these were quickly dispelled as Villarreal finished second in Segunda and gained automatic promotion to La Liga. They now find themselves in fourth place, having made the best ever start for a newly-promoted team, and Marcelino has earned himself a two-and-a-half year contract extension.

Indeed, Marcelino is seen as a manager who works best when he is not under pressure, and can implement his style effectively. Under his dynamic style, which involves ‘quick and collective’ football with ‘every player actively looking to win the ball back’, as he recently stated in an interview with UEFA.com, players such as Bruno have flourished, and along with the likes of Giovani Dos Santos (who himself suffered relegation last year with Mallorca), Cani and Uche (who only last weekend scored a fantastic overhead kick) they look to be one of the few sides that can really stay in touch with the top three in La Liga.

Bruno has been the player who has benefitted the most from Marcelino’s presence at the club. The midfielder is a key piece of Villarreal’s attack and defence, and Marcelino recently said that there were only two midfielders in the whole of Spain that were better than him, Xavi and Iniesta. Whilst this may be going a bit too far, it is clear that Bruno has become Villarreal’s most influential player, and can expect a call-up from Del Bosque very soon if he carries on his imperious form.

The high-pressure football that Villarreal play has been facilitated by the work of the club’s nutritionist in reducing the weight of the players, and the club has an excellent youth system, with promising first-choice players such as Musacchio and Jonathan Pereira having graduated from Villarreal B, which, along with the likes of Barcelona B and Real Madrid Castilla, has been one of the most successful B teams in Spain in recent years.

Relegation was a chance for the entire club to pick themselves up and start afresh. If they can keep up the same intensity throughout the rest of the season then they will surely find themselves in fourth place, behind only the likes of Atletico and the big two. Whether they can go beyond is debatable this season, but, if the youth system carries on producing players with enough quality and Marcelino keeps on motivating his squad, there is no doubt that they will be up there in years to come. The Yellow Submarine is back, and better than ever.

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